Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Grandparents live in blessed times
Aug. 10, 2007

Twice in the last month, I’ve been asked whether I love my grandchildren as much as my children.
I do. But I understand why people who aren’t yet grandparents might be uncertain on that front. It’s hard to imagine loving anyone as much as you do your children.
Of course, that’s a key factor right there in terms of getting things started.
Grandchildren are the children of your children, after all, and thus loved by your son or daughter more than anything in the world. If nothing else, you’ll love your grandchildren because your children love them so much.
Fresh off a 10-day holiday with our three grandsons, however, I’m newly reminded of all the other ways that grandchildren find their way into your heart. Doubters, worry not.
Mine are ages eight, seven and four. My partner and I have been spiriting them off for little holidays almost from the beginning - initially as a gift to their weary parents, and soon as a routine event.
First came Bowser Bill’s, which had grassy fields and gentle shoreline well-suited to outdoor naps and a baby’s tottering first steps. I envisaged years of peaceful seaside idylls with the little ones.
But the years slip away even faster with your grandchildren. This year’s idyll manifested as boisterous jumps from a rope swing into the Englishman River and icy plunges into the depths of Cameron Lake. Back at camp, Robert Munsch had to make way for R.L. Stine on the motor home bookshelves.
I won’t try to tell you that hanging out with the grandkids is all happiness and light.
Looking after small children is exhausting in middle age, and there are moments on our camping holidays when I’m frazzled, furious and badly in need of a time out. At moments like that, I can only express my gratitude to the inventor of the portable DVD player.
There were times on this last trip when I would have been way happier to have just me and my partner enjoying our little motor home, quietly taking in an evening’s sunset instead of mediating the bickering over whose marshmallow will be first on the fire. There were times when the last thing I wanted to do was spend my morning in the splash zone of the jam-packed campground pool.
Overall, though, the holidays are quite wonderful. I’m young again when I’m with the grandsons, and grateful to be able to relive years with my own children that I didn’t know enough to value the first time around.
It’s a bit like being given a second chance at raising children - this time with the benefit of experience as well as the broader viewpoint that comes with aging.
So it’s all just a little easier. More relaxed. You don’t sweat the details nearly so much. You don’t try to win every battle, and get way better at avoiding one in the first place.
From this distance, it’s also easier to see the impact of genetics. I once believed that it was all about nurture, but have come to appreciate through my grandchildren the profound effect that nature also plays.
One of my grandsons, for instance, appears to have been born to walk on logs, go on the fast rides, swim in the deep water. It’s only in the last couple of years that he’s accumulated enough experiences to know to slow things down a little.
The other two - brothers - were infinitely more cautious as toddlers. They’ve grown more comfortable with risk only by building up enough safe experiences to convince themselves that they’ll be OK.
Alas, the arguments and unhappy moments that might have been avoided with my own children if only I’d had a better grasp of who they really were underneath it all. I couldn’t see for looking that so much of who they would grow up to be was already there when they were born.
Perhaps the best part of time spent with your grandchildren - or any children, really - is that it allows you to have fun again. You do things that your rational, sensible adult self just wouldn’t do in the regular scheme of things.
Would I choose to plunge repeatedly into a cold, cold swimming hole above Englishman River Falls if not for three young boys calling me in to join them? Or dope myself to the eyes on anti-histamines in order to survive my horse allergy long enough for a trail ride at Tiger Lily Farms?
Would I crawl on my elbows in a half-metre of water through the endless shallows of Rathtrevor Beach? Try to tempt butterflies to land on my head?
Not likely. While I’d love to think that my inner child will always be readily accessible, the truth is that it mostly takes kids to get me acting like a kid.
The days when my own children filled that role slipped past quicker than I ever could have imagined. Like the song says, you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.
I’d never make the same mistake twice. God bless grandchildren.

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